I'm a psychotherapist and wellness coach, and founder of The Calm & Happy Gut Solution. I specialise in gut directed hypnotherapy and CBT for IBS, helping my clients to beat their symptoms without restrictive diets or being medicated the rest of their lives.
First off, let me give you a virtual high five!
I realise that making the decision to quit or cut back on sugar is not always an easy one, so the fact that you are here reading tells me something about you. It tells me you believe in a better version of you – and that’s amazing!
I could write a whole book alone on the many benefits reducing your sugar intake will bring to your life, but I’ll summarise by saying, I believe it’s one of the most empowering and beneficial decisions you can make.
But let’s just agree on one thing ok before I share with you the 3 things that you can do right now to give up sugar? Cutting back or quitting sugar can be tough. I’m not going to sugar coat it for you (pun intended). You need to prepare yourself physically, mentally and emotionally.
You see physically sugar is deemed as addictive as cocaine due to the way it lights up the reward centres in your brain. And emotionally we have been wired to link sugar with comfort, love and safety from a very young age. It’s literally ingrained in our society, culture and food system.
However (and this is the good news!) all that being said, it is absolutely 100% possible for you to achieve your goal and to gain what I call, true Sugar Freedom. But it’s going to take some work, and as much as I can guide, support and coach you, we’ll need to work as a team. Ok? Hopefully, you are now nodding your head at this point.
In my experience of helping women regain control over their sugar cravings (and from my own personal journey), I have learnt a few things along the way.
So let me dive into what you can do right now to give up sugar.
Sounds simple? But, the world of sugar is full of grey (along with being very murky).
It’s not a black and white world, and unless you get clear on EXACTLY what it is you are cutting back on, you’ll end up confused, overwhelmed and destined to give up.
And I don’t want this for you.
So first up, you’re going to get clear on what ‘sugar’ means for you.
To help get you started, I have listed out the main areas you will want to consider when starting this journey, along with my thoughts and suggestions.
Common examples: Table sugar, brown sugar, icing sugar, cane juice, cane sugar, demerara sugar, raw sugar, golden syrup, glucose.
My take: This is one of the areas most people start with. You are likely already familiar with the names of these sugars, and they are generally easy to spot in cakes, lollies, biscuits and sweet treats. Even if you aren’t 100% confident with reading food labels, these sugars are fairly easy to spot when you scan the ingredient list.
Common examples: Maple syrup, honey, coconut nectar, coconut sugar, agave nectar, rice malt syrup, date sugar
My take: Overall they are still sources of sugar. However, you may want to pick and choose as you get started and reduce one at a time. Remember moderation is key, and a spoonful of honey is still going to spike your blood sugar levels in the same way table sugar would. Telling yourself that they are ok because they are natural sources is not going to work here. I’ve heard this line too many times my friend!
Common examples: Aspartame, Saccharin, Acesulfame, Sucralose
My take: Whilst it may be tempting to substitute with artificial sweeteners when cutting down from ‘real’ sugar, the side effects of many of these sweeteners are harmful. Plus they are considered even more addictive than the real thing! If you are already consuming artificial sweeteners, then I would strongly recommend you make a plan to cut back and eliminate them from your diet,
Common examples: Apples, pears, banana’s, berries, mangoes, oranges
My take: Some people like to put fruit into the same bucket as the sugars above. I do not. In fact I encourage my clients not to be afraid of fruit. A couple of pieces (2 pieces) a day is absolutely fine. Like everything though, moderation is key – so don’t go crazy ok?
Yes, some fruits contain more natural sugars than others (for example Mangoes), but if you stick to eating seasonal fruit and don’t go crazy, you’ll be just fine. Examples of low sugar fruits include strawberries, peaches, oranges, grapefruits and honeydew melon
Common examples: Long life juices, freshly squeezed juices from juice bars, and refrigerated juices in the fridge aisles
My take: You’re not going to like me for saying this, but fruit juices are in reality simply liquid sugar. All the healthy fibre has been removed (and likely thrown away), and whilst you may be getting some vitamins from the juice, you are also giving your body a massive hit of sugar. In fact one serve (200ml) of supermarket fruit juice contains the equivalent of between 4 to 6 teaspoons of sugar. That’s a lot. If you are a juice and smoothie fan, then may I suggest blending the WHOLE fruit (so you keep the fibre), and adding more veggies which are naturally lower in sugar.
It’s important for me to point out right about now that there are no set rules. This is your journey. If you want to pick one area for a month, and then slowly add to your list the next month, then do that. In fact, just focusing on 1 or 2 areas at a time will make it all feel a lot more manageable when you’re first starting off.
In order to start cutting down on sugar, you first need to know where the sugar is getting into your diet in the first place. Sounds obvious right? But when you’re feeling overwhelmed with where to start, this step is often missed.
When you start identifying where sugar is getting into your diet, keep it simple. Look for the obvious sources first e.g. chocolate, biscuits and cakes, and then write these down. Keeping a food diary or a record of what sugary foods you are eating can be very simple. You can use your mobile phone to keep a record, or keep a small notepad in your bag. Choose a way to record the sugar you’re eating in a way that will work for you. I’d recommend you keep a ‘sugar diary’ for 1-2 weeks.
After 1-2 weeks of keeping a record of your meals, snacks and drinks you should start to see some clear patterns.
Once you get used to identifying these obvious sources, I would encourage you to start understanding the hidden sources of the sugar in your food. This is when you start learning how to read food labels and get really good at spotting the sneaky sugar creeping in.
For now, focus on what you know and can clearly identify.
Even the best made plans unravel if you don’t adequately prepare in advance. And this is a big area where I have seen well-meaning plans unravel at the seams. Please don’t let this be you.
In your quest to cut back on sugar we need to be realistic, and we also need to remember we are human. Change can take time to get used to, so we want to make this as easy as possible.
Cutting back sugar is not an all or nothing approach, at least not yet (and it is entirely up to you if and when you decide this). There are going to be occasions, birthday’s, celebrations and countless other events where sugar will be present. It’s your job now to plan for these in advance. It’s your job to decide whether or not you will say yes to a slice of cake, or no thank you.
Remember, it’s your decision. You make the rules.
If you decide that cake is now off the table, then you can start to prepare yourself for saying ‘no thank you’. Mentally rehearsing and preparing in advance will strengthen your resolve like you wouldn’t believe.
So with this in mind, I want you to write out on a piece of paper all the special occasions coming up in the next month where you think sugar may be present.
Once you have made this list, I want you to decide if they will be sugar free, or if you will say yes to something if offered.
Now at this stage I want to add a quick caveat. You know yourself better than I do. If you know you won’t be able to stop at just one slice or one piece, then it maybe in your best interest to keep all these events sugar free. However, now you know what is coming up over the next month you can prepare healthy snacks to take with you and mentally prepare yourself in advance.
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